Book Reviews





A Christmas Carol

As its coming up the Christmas I thought I would leave you with a little festive cheer from arguably the most famous Christmas tale ever told (and one of my favourite Christmas films, second to Elf!) I'm not sure how much I'll write up until the new year, so if you don't hear from me, have a great end of 2011, and I'll see you in 2012!

"I don't know what to do!" cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoön of himself with his stockings. "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!" 
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens 


A few bad eggs...

I'm in that slump. That space between amazing books where nothing comes close to what you've just read. Sometimes, it's my fault I don't enjoy a book - I expect it to be the book I've just finished. I'm unfair on it. I don't approach it as a seperate entity, but still on a high from "that great book" expecting the exact same thing from it.
Other times, it really is the book (honest!) be it writing structures I can't relate to, tedious characters, contrived plot...
It's actually pretty draining, pulling yourself through "ok" books, constantly on the hunt for the next "great" one.
You invest a lot of time into a book. A lot of life, actually. You give it your heart and your trust for hours and hours. Sometimes you miss a meal to reach the end, and you certainly give up a few hours sleep. You believe that the experience it will give you will be worth missing a night out for. You cut yourself off from human interaction for it.

So when you emerge from 400 pages and feel hollow, what do you do?

I have a range of immediate actions. Twilight got launched across the room (I was aiming for the window, but missed), and Engleby would have been thrown if it wasn't attached to my Kindle, so instead I had to go out for a run to shake myself free of it. Very often, my poor boyfriend gets a full blown rant about the book's flaws that he has to just nod and smile through... but mostly - I throw myself straight into the next novel, full of hope that it can only be better.

Do you need "healing time" for a book?

I mean, I pretty much have a freaky sort of relationship with them, given the above. I lived off one-hand-only, non-preparation-required crackers for 14 hours as I read Order of the Pheonix start to finish. I (in effect) cut my boyfriend out of my life for an hour or two every night and give my affection to characters - I barely even hear him when he talks to me (and I'm really sorry for that, if you're reading!). I cry at them, I laugh at them, and when they disappoint me, I'm a moody cow! It's a tough break-up when the ending hasn't been worth the commitment of the previous pages and all they entail. So am I wise in moving onto the next one?

Should I be giving myself time to forget them? Doing other things for a while? Seeing other books? ;)

Trouble is, I just darn love to read, and can't imagine a night without a chapter or two. And when I clumsily fall unexpectedly into a masterpiece amidst all the bad eggs, it's the best feeling ever.


"To read or not to read?" : The Blue Book

Not so long ago, I fancied some food while I was out shopping. I decided I wanted some Wagamama noodles, and headed over. However, before I went in, I stopped off at Waterstones. I was on my own and didn't feel comfortable eating alone without something to occupy me. I bought a book.

Hurried from my usual "read the first chapter" browsing habits by my grumbling stomach, I grabbed a book I had on my Amazon wishlist, The Blue Book. It was a new release, the plot sounded great, and even though it was £13 (*hyperventilation*) I bought it anyway. I needed a book and I knew what this was about.

A couple of months on, I am only 150 pages in and have completed 3 other books instead.

The trouble is, I simply cannot bear the writing style. It's languid, self-indulgent, meandering prose that (150 pages in) hasn't yet presented me with the point of the novel. It's got unlinked narratives popping up left, right and centre and a first chapter that, even if I had read it in the shop, has no bearing on the next 8! Argh! I've only so far experienced the ridiculous mind-babble of the central character. I don't really relate to her, her characterisation is annoying and I don't need a thousand different ways to describe a waiting crowd for a boat!!!!

Ok. I've got that out the way... Here's the dilemma. Obviously, I'm not clicking with this book, but the thing is that the plot sounds great, it's simply the way it's written that's getting to me.

Do I stick with it, with all the grating irks that go with it, for the satifaction of the plot? Or do I stop, potentially missing out on a great story, but saving myself the frustration?

I felt like this with a couple of David Mitchell novels... I didn't finish them, but then again I didn't find their plot so interesting either...!



E-Readers for Xmas

It's that time of year again. And what do you get the unsocial being who sits in the corner reading A Christmas Carol instead of playing the 5th round of Charades?... An e-reader! (Or so I'm lead to believe, having spent last Xmas clutching my own like a long lost teddy bear.)

Self depreciation aside though, if you are looking to buy a thoughtful, book-themed gift for someone you love/want to keep quiet for a month or so, you could do worse than Digital Book Heaven in their hands. Despite this, you could be met with some resistance to your great gift suggestion. For example:

"I like PAGES"
"I'll miss the SMELL of books"
"I cant read it in the bath"
"It just FEELS different"

To help you out, I would like to offer you the answer to all of the above and more. Here it is:

"Books are NOT vanishing."

E-reader-phobes seem to have this amazing concept of never being able to pick up a physical book again once they own an e-reader. I don't know, maybe a Kindle replaces an arm or something (in which case, they've been reading too much Sci-Fi/Steampunk and could probably do with some good ol' classics obtained FOR FREE via the interweb anyway.)

An e-reader does feel different, I'll give the 'phobes that. But I'll be honest, reading two tonnes of "World Without End" not so long ago had me rueing the fact I had borrowed it from a friend and not downloaded it. Hear this, World - "e-readers save your hand a lot of cramp for the epics!"

As for the smell thing... seriously, just get over it. If you want to sniff a centuries old sneeze off a book, go down to your local library and help stop them from all but disappearing.

An e-reader, whether it be Kindle, Kobo, Sony... whatever, simply offers you options!

It can make your reading experience better than a book when the paper-version is either a) heavy as a brick b) only out in hardback c) published in mini-font .1000 or d) printed on tissue paper and you want to make notes.
It offers the option to download samples which I LOVE. No suspicious looks any more from shelf-faffers as I read the first chapter in the middle of Waterstones = "thank you e-reader, you flippin' genius".
And last but not least - when you finish Part 1 of an amazing series in the middle of your snow-soaked White Christmas, and it ends on an unbearable cliff hanger and the shops are shut, you no longer need to make everyone else's Christmas a Humbug. You can just hit download on Part 2.

Happy Christmas? Yes, I thought so too!

Happy e-reading everyone!

Books to make time for - Part 6

Wow, I haven't written one of these in a while! Let's catch up with a book that I think everyone in the world should read whether they feel like they want to or not ;)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini doesn't get as much celebration as The Kite Runner, but of the two, A Thousand Splendid Suns is the one which made me weep. It's a brilliant (though heartbreaking) story of women, friendship and struggle in Afghanistan. Keep the tissues close.

What is it about?

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan's last thirty years, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding, that puts the violence, fear, hope and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives, the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness, are inextricable from the history playing out around them. [from]

Why should you make time for it?

The book is moving, immersive and shocking in many ways. It's written extremely well and completely pulls you into the lives of the characters, almost to a point where you can't bear to be aligned with them any more. I won't lie, this book is not a happy tale, it's tragic on many levels but there are beautiful moments. It's the kind of book you should read in the way everyone should read Schindler's List...

You might like this if you like...

Feminism, current issues, emotional drama, culture

This book is similar to:

Again, I'm struggling to find similarities... It's not a genre I typically read so not much to compare to from my own experience.

Where can you get it?

Find it at Amazon or on Kindle. .

Florence and Giles - The review

Let me just get this out the way right now: Florence and Giles by John Harding, is the single best book you will ever download for 99p (from Kindle Store.) Do yourself a favour and download it now, before they realise some intern made a pricing mistake or something and sell it for more...

Ok, so to openly recommend a book in the first paragraph is something slightly unheard of for me, but some books simply warrant a bit of a song and dance when they're such great value for money ;)
The fact is, Florence and Giles promises to be something it doesn't fail to deliver on, and that is something I have been struggling to find in a book lately (...see Starcrossed, for example...)

Take Turn of the Screw and mix it up with a bit of Poe (As backed up by the Times reviewer on the front cover, I've just noticed, go me!), and you may see why I loved this book. There's a governess, there's creepiness, there's ghosts, house keepers, institutionalised kids and chronic illnesses. It's every little bit the modern gothic horror with every decent throwback and reference to the classics.

So, what is the the book actually about? Florence and Giles are the lonely orphans of Blithe House, looked after by the housemaids. After the sudden death of their first governess, Florence is haunted by dreams of a woman plotting to steal her brother Giles, and begins a solitary investigation into their new governess, Miss Taylor, who she believes may be the woman her dreams warn her of.

I'm not exaggerating on the creepiness. Partly through fault of my own (as I read this book at nights before I went to sleep) I found myself with an unwillingness to look into a mirror, a fear of where I may wake up in the mornings and an unsettling image of a governess hovering upon a lake. The book packs atmosphere into every inch of it's pages and really sucks you in. I could probably have read it in one sitting if I hadn't had an unavoidable need to sleep...

However, there is one small little niggle I had with the book. It is narrated by Florence who, for various reasons the book explains, has a language of her own. As a result I found some phrases to be forced and unnatural to the flow of reading. At the beginning, Harding really pushes the language of Florence on every page and it got a little bit tiring, but he soon relaxes and the writing finds it's stride, pulling you into is dark belly of mystery and mental unhingement.

All in all, I would definately recommend this book and will certainly seek out other titles by the author for the future.


Just goes to show you...

I am now 4 days into my NaNoWriMo challenge. And you know what? It's not as awful as I expected!
Yes, it's hard. Yes, I do panic every time I write 100 words and nothing more for 3 hours. Yes, I see this sucking a lot of my sanity over the coming month.
BUT! But but but... What I never expected was how my random ideas are just lining themselves up. They're actually making a narrative!
I did half expect 50000 words of unchained events. But I was wrong. There, I said it. This NaNoWriMo madness has actually taught me more about myself and my writing than I've ever known before.

For instance:

I am totally, and seemingly unavoidably, succeptable to the "tense trap". Countless times I've read a sentence back and gone "err, hang on a moment!" and had to make a quick edit.

Also, I'm an absolute control freak. I'm pretty sure the point of 50000 words in a month is solely aimed at people like me. You have to forget good form, good lyricality (is that a word?) and good flow. You just have to get your ideas down and leave it at that. And damn, do I hate it! But look at what I have for it: 4118 words of A BOOK! (currently.) And that's pretty awesome.

Did you know I liked the name Victoria? Nor did I til I started writing for NaNoWriMo... I can no longer faff with things like naming a character. This is a good thing.

Finally, I have learnt I can write. That years of office work has not dulled my ability to do it. Whether I'm a good writer, well, that's not up to me ;) but I do have the ability to put cohesive words on paper/MS Word and enjoy it. That's the most important thing of all.

Now, onto the next 45000!

My progress in pics:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:


NaNoWriMo - The idea

The heart was dark that stood before him. Shredded and tattered, torn beyond all recognition.
Number 9 had no idea of the bonds it had escaped to be here, or of the lives it had sacrificed and left behind.
Four countries and countless chance encounters later, it was Talia, and he saw it had never forgotten that day in the snow - when its spine had been ripped from it so savagely. Only fate and true vengeance could have drawn it here. Now death could finally end the cycle - but at what cost? With Talia gone 9 could be 10 and gone forever.

That ^ is a paragraph I wrote about 3/4 years ago, and what I intend to use as my basis for NaNoWriMo 2011. I don't have a clear cut plan. All I know is my characters and how their story ends. If all I write is a 50,000 word ending I'll be happy as pie. If I just make it to week 2, I'll be even happier!

I want to be really committed to this. I want to come out of November thinking "yes, I've actually achieved something I'm proud of". It's nice to have that feeling, but I'm also aware it could go the other way. I could resent the fact I have a word limit and a deadline. I might let the self-doubt I'm so prone win, and quit. I might begin to wonder why I'm spending so much time on something that will come to nothing. (< see there's that doubt already!)

So this weekend, I'm not touching a book. I'm not writing a single blog post. I'm not even going to update twitter. I'm going to do mindless things girls do when they don't have self-imposed challenges. I'm going to have "one last hurrah" before November hits coz that's when I'm going to hit this thing head first, and by bookishness am I going to see it through to it's bitter end.

If Im quiet over the next few weeks - NaNoWriMo is the reason why. I'll try and keep you updated but I have a couple guest posters lined up incase I can't ;)

Some men grow moustashes... I write a novel. Shit just happens.

Guilty Pleasures and Life Lessons

If YA fiction is my comfort-novel, Jodi Picoult must be my dirty little secret. I have read 7 of her books in the past, and I have two more on my Kindle, waiting. Usually, I hate all that courtroom-drama lawyer faff and "bookclub books" which are written to be discussed. (Of course all books spark discussion, but you know what I mean... the ones that drop symbology as a requirement, not as an artform...) but JP has me cracked. In all honesty, I can't wait to see what she's got to say every time.

The first book of Jodi's I ever read was a gift from a friend. She was leaving to live in South Africa and she gave me Second Glance with a lovely inscription in the cover. I love recieving books as gifts. You are usually presented with something you would never pick for yourself - and that very thing can be said for Second Glance. If I had seen it on a shop's bookshelf, I wouldn't have even read the blurb.

The trouble is, as much as the old adage "never judge a book by it's cover" is true, I do judge. And the swirly writing and light blue hues would scream "your mum would read this with a tea" at me.
However, there was a reason I was given this book. There was a reason my friend went as far as to inscribe a message and recommend the story.
So I began to read...

I have to say, the friend was clever. Of all of Jodi Picoult's many novels, she had given me the least "Jodi-ish" but the one that would spark my interest the most. This one had ghosts.

Even Jodi Picoult writes in the back of Second Glance that it is the book she never imagined she would write, but man, am I glad she did. I was hooked from the word go, and I cannot thank my friend enough for introducing me. Following that, I read Keeping Faith and harrassed my other friends for any other stories of her's they owned. I ended up with My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes, Handle with Care and Vanishing Acts. I pretty much devoured them.

There's just something about an even sided account of a moral dilemma that I love, apparently. (We have already established in previous posts that I get enthralled by the stangest of things). And I think it's also the great depiction of female characters she presents that I enjoy; the the strength of them. Also the mother/daughter relationships are pretty relateable for me. God knows I caused my own mum enough grief growing up, and I wasn't always the well-adjusted lady you see before you now (ha!) Growing up, and in hindsight reading the novels now, Jodi Picoult has helped me see things from my mum's side. I saw why parents do the things they do. I learnt that they have hearts of gold and glass in equal meaure. And she told me all this without patronising me, at a time of my life when I needed it, and would have run the other way at a "serious" conversation.

Books can have the strangest effect on you. They carry worldly views and life lessons. You can make your mistakes through them and right them before they ever make it into your own life. This is what Jodi Picoult offers. This is why I will always read her books.

The Woman in Black - film

If you have read The Woman In Black by Susan Hill you will know how brilliant it is. If you have seen the play, you will know how wonderfully it adapts to a visual medium. If you have seen this trailer for the upcoming cinema release, you will be just a little bit more than excited:

What cinema does is provide the "jumpiness" the play delivers that the book can't, and the landscape that the book describes and the stage can't cope with.

For once, a film could be exactly what a book needs.

Will be interesting to see Daniel Radcliffe in this role too.

Forgotten - REVIEW

Say this with me now: "hall - e - lull - jah" - I have found the one book on all the shelves that takes YA fiction and doesn't patronise the fluff out of you.

I would like to personally thank Cat Patrick for writing a novel that not only includes "supernatural elements" and romance that doesnt make me want to hurl, but that also completely understands the language, emotions and instability of being a teenager.

Forgotten is exactly the kind of YA fiction I want to read. It's the Ben Stiller Effect (as mentioned in this post) and it's also clever, endearing and fun.
London Lane is a girl who can't remember yesterday or anything before it, but sees her future as "memories"; it's interesting, well thought-out and it's not labouriously explained every chapter unlike some books I could mention. While coping with this "broken brain", London see flashes of a future that causes her to think both her boyfriend and her mother are lying to her, and seeks to find out what they're keeping in the dark.

I really enjoyed reading Forgotten. For the first time in a long time, I actually cared for the characters. London is the most human character I've read lately and very relatable to teenage girls. I like that, for once, a YA heroine isn't melodramatic or letting her life be pulled apart by instant, unfounded love for a dangerous boy. London cares for her friends, she does her homework and she actually wants a relationship with her parents (who aren't just there to provide her somewhere legitimate to sleep!)
Through London, Cat Patrick really captures the excitement of a crush, and even though London experiences this for the first time every day, she manages to make it new each time and not once did I find myself thinking "here we go again..." She also has the art of teenage conversation to a "T".
As for the obligatory "hot boyfriend", the old favourites of "gorgeous" and "god-lilke" are in there, but they aren't over-used. And, actually - this dude's a half decent guy! *high fives*

Aside from the great charaters, the story line walks the divide between fun and serious like an old pro. There are some quite heavy themes in the book (teacher/student romance, death, absent parents, kidnap) but Cat Patrick manages to keep a great balance that never lets the book fall into a dark shadow.

All in all, Forgotten is a great read and I would definately recommend it to you if you like a bit of romance and mystery. It's solid teen fiction, and a whole heap better than anything else I've encountered in the genre lately. It was also refreshing to read a book that didn't lean entirely upon the paranormal elements of it's story to carry it and instead created characters you wanted to believe in.

If you've read Forgotten, I'd love to hear what you thought of it too!


Books to make time for - Part 5

Part 5 of the Books to make time for series is here! And this time I'm championing The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (a.k.a Genius... to me, anyways...)

I have been a massive fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon for years (Starting immediately the moment I opened the first page of his most renowned book "The Shadow Of The Wind") - I find his writing style beautiful and his stories completely immersing. It's horrible to have to wait so long for his books to be translated from his native Spanish in order to be able to read them though!

What is it about?

In an abandoned mansion at the heart of Barcelona, a young man - David Martin - makes his living by writing sensationalist novels under a pseudonym. The survivor of a troubled childhood, he has taken refuge in the world of books, and spends his nights spinning baroque tales about the city's underworld. But perhaps his dark imaginings are not as strange as they seem, for in a locked room deep within the house letters hinting at the mysterious death of the previous owner. Like a slow poison, the history of the place seeps into his bones as he struggles with an impossible love. Then David receives the offer of a lifetime: he is to write a book with the power to change hearts and minds. In return, he will receive a fortune, perhaps more. But as David begins the work, he realises that there is a connection between this haunting book and the shadows that surround his home...

Why should you make time for it?

The way Carlos Ruiz Zafon writes his characters is just amazing. Every book I've read of his has such believable, fully rounded characters so well written it's like you know them personally. They have habits, idioms, flaws, talents and humanity. He also introduces you to a very different, gothic Barcelona - where darkness, mystery and romance prevail. The Angel's Game is a book about writers for writers, by a writer's writer. It's flippin' ace.

You might like this if you like...

Gothic horror, paranormal/supernatural elements, psychological thrillers, Spain, Stephen King

This book is similar to:

Shadow of the Wind, The Dark Half

Where can you get it?

Find it at Amazon or on Kindle



November is National Novel Writing Month (endearingly termed by it's participants as NaNoWriMo) and I have tentatively decided to take part. The aim is to write 50,000 words in a month... just for the hell of it. (Well, maybe not "the hell of it" - probably more because you just darn love to write!)

I say tentatively because I know what I'm like. I'll dive head first into it, writing for 3 hours a night, every night... for about a week. And then I'll forget... Or I'll not have time... Or I'll just find myself watching season 1 million of America's Next Top Model instead.

It's not because I don't love to write, though. Because I do. Very much. It's that I have never in my life been able to see an idea through more than about 50 pages. Even if I had the next Lord of the Rings scale epic in my head, all characterised and beginning-middle-and-ended, I'd still only reach Tom Bombadil before I gave it up.

My biggest flaw as a writer is my conviction - in myself and in my ideas. I tend to write an idea, only to get a month or so into it and think "noone else would read this" and stop because I feel it's self-indulgent pap.

That's why blogging suits me. It's short and no-one pays anything to read it so I don't have to feel guilty if you don't lilke what I'm spewwing. I don't have to approach anyone to be judged and approved, and I don't have to hit a word count.

However... that makes me a coward. I don't want to be that. And, actually, I'd quite like to one day have a complete story to my name, I might even want to publish it... I want to challenge and push myself. So, NaNoWriMo it is.

I've been putting a few ideas together and different avenues I could go down.

There's the Teen Fantasy Romance - tempting because its ridiculously easy to write, off-putting because I bloody hate the genre at the moment thanks to certain vampires and their rip-offs.

There's the Introverted Musing/Memoir - possibly the one with the most longevity because I could write it like a journal, making nightly writing for a month a bit more plausible - but man, this story could would be boring!

Then there's the "just write and see what happens" option. This has the most potential for failure because I'm attacking with no plan and nothing to aim for the following night... but could be the better end result.

So, there you have it! Stage one of my NaNoWriMo journey well and truly muddled and confused.

I'll probably be tweeting my trials and tribulations so if you want to witness disaster at work, follow me @mabismab. I can't say it will be pretty, but wonders never cease. I could do with the encouragement to be honest!

See ya!


Starcrossed - REVIEW

I feel that recently YA fiction has lost it's way a bit. I'm sure that there have been books published in the last 6 months that don't follow the "My life was just so damned normal until [insert goregeous, arrestingly beautiful, adonis-like creature of a guy] came into my life and made it dangerous and exciting coz he, like, had powers!" formula, but I'm also sure there's very few.

Starcrossed, unfortunately for me, is not one of them. Recently, it has been attracting many complimentary reviews, and "best YA book of 2010" status. And in fact the blurb sounded interesting when I read it, so I downloaded it to Kindle and jumped in.

Let me just tell you right now, if you are considering reading this book based upon the blurb - it is very misleading. Misleading in the "I could almost report you to OFCOM for false advertising" sense of the word. Here it is, by the way:

When shy, awkward Helen Hamilton sees Lucas Delos for the first time she thinks two things: the first, that he is the most ridiculously beautiful boy she has seen in her life; the second, that she wants to kill him with her bare hands.
With an ancient curse making them loathe one another, Lucas and Helen have to keep their distance. But sometimes love is stronger than hate, and not even the gods themselves can't prevent what will happen . . . 

The whole loathing/murderous thing? It's about 3-4 pages of the book. It quickly makes way for sappy, all-engulfing, ridiculous love. The book's 528 pages long - that's an awful lot of non-loathing the blurb conveniently breezed over...

Also, apart from the weird allusion to Gods, is there anything that would have you think this book, and its entire plot, is based on the Iliad and Greek mythology? Forgive me for thinking this might actually be a bit dark and gothic at the mention of ancient curses... and did anyone else think plot segments might take a bit of inspiration from Shakespeare due to the title? Maybe it's just me...

Oh, and the thing the Gods cant prevent? IT NEVER HAPPENS! So I guess the Gods did prevent it, huh?

So, blurb-bashing over... Onto the content. It's actually not too badly written. The first and last few chapters are quite enjoyable. But Starcrossed is about 300 pages too long. There's waaaay too many characters that are non-essential to the plot and there are a lot of scenes that don't really move anything along, and seem only to serve as a plateau for "hand holding" between Helen and Lucas. There was also a background storyline going on about Helen's father dating/not dating his co-worker that didn't really need to be there...
As a result I found Starcrossed hard to read for any length of time. I'd pick it up for five minutes, read a bit, get bored, and forget about it until the next time I had nothing better to do.

As for the Greek mythology, at first it seemed shoe-horned in and a little bit laughable... then I came to just accept it, as it obviously wasn't going to go away any time soon... and then it got so contrived and confusing I couldn't be bothered any more and wished it would all just end already.

Annoyingly, as with every YA book in the world these days, it seems to be the first of a series. I don't think Ill be buying the next one.

I found this really strange video promoting the book on Amazon. Please tell me this isn't making it onto a screen of any kind and publishers are just trying a creepy new way of advertising literature?


Books to make time for - Part 4

Part 4 of my "Books to make time for" feature is here!

The fourth book I'd like to feature is: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I picked this book out of a freebie box someone brought to work to give away, as they were moving to Australia and couldn't take everything with them. I'm so glad no-one got to it before I did!

What is it about?

Vida Winter, a famous novelist in England, has never been forthcoming when it comes to her past. Her entire life is a secret, and for fifty years reporters and biographers have attempted to discover the truth. With her health quickly fading, Ms. Winter enlists a bookish amateur biographer named Margaret Lea to bear witness to the tragic story of the Angelfield family, their eccentric beginnings as well as their demise. Margaret, who has family secrets of her own, must unravel the mysteries of the past in order to reconcile not only Miss Winter with her ghosts, but also Margaret with her own. [from wikipedia]

Why should you make time for it?

The author makes no pretences to the fact that this book takes every famous gothic novel she's ever enjoyed and mixes them all into one furious pot of mystery, tension and creepiness. It's the honesty of the references that makes this book so great, you can just sit back and wonder how all the plots will intertwine - and when you think you've guessed it, something else will come along. No, it's not original, but it is great fun!

You might like this if you like...

18th Century gothic novels, atmospheric surroundings, mystery

This book is similar to:

Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca

Where can you get it?

Find it at Amazon

The Help meets The Big Screen

I hopped along to the Cambridge Film Festival this weekend to catch a screening of The Help on the final day. As you may know from this gushing post, I adored the book and have lent it to many people since finishing it, with "You HAVE to read this" on a post-it on the front. When I heard it was being made into a film I was wary - and you will probably know the familiar sense of foreboding if any of your favourite books have been made into 1.5hr visuals. *coughGoldenCompasscough* However, Emma Stone was cast as Skeeter and this gave me hope. I l.o.v.e Emma Stone.

And oh my daiz... It was actually good. I sat there as the credits played in stunned silence and appreciation. If I was Kathryn Stockett I would be one mega-happy woman! Few minor points aside (I'll get to these later) the film was everything the book was. The characters were so well cast (Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly... who knew such a sweet actress could be so downright nasty?!), and it was great to see real lines from the book used in the dialogue. Very few plot events were missed and the emotions soared and plummeted with great feeling. I think I could watch it again right now!

However, there were one or two things I found a bit strange. They didn't detriment the film or the book really, I just found them to be odd decisions... And those were plot changes. If you haven't read or seen The Help yet, please be aware there are spoilers ahead.

The strangest plot change was the decision to change Constantine's daughter from being white, to being a stong minded black lady. I have tried thinking why this would have been changed but the only thing I could come up with is that they didn't have the extra 5 minutes it would have taken to explain... But as a result of the plot change, Constantine's dismissal wasn't quite as momentous as in the book.

Also, the decision to have Skeeter's mother accept that Skeeter wants to write, and be happy that she wrote The Help. I can only assume they wanted the "I'm proud of you" moment for Hollywood audiences. I'm also puzzled by the way they left the mother's illness with a "she's better now" message. The woman had cancer, in the 60s - I'm pretty sure the ability to overcome it without treatment back then was one in a million?

But like I say - they were very small things far outweighed by the brilliance of the rest of it. The relationship between Minnie and Celia, for instance, was so great to watch. Please buy a tacket and see it for yourself, you won't regret it.

Oh, and here's a little fact for you: The Help was rejected 60 times before it was eventually published. And I thought Harry Potter's rejection rate was bad...

Dude watchin' with the Brontes

This is complete genius and totally what I mean in this post!

Thanks so much to Yasmine for letting me know about it! (She's flippin' brilliant, and if she had a blog I'd link you to it!)

Craziest career choice I know

"I'm going to write a book". That's something I'm willing to bet my sandwich that almost everyone will say, or at least think, at some point in their life. It's an attractive, whimsical prospect. Imagine, you could be out by that lake, sipping peppermint tea, waxing lyrical about the heady swell of a summer breeze a la Colin Firth in Love Actually. Or mooning masochistically over muscley rebels of your imagination like the Brontes. Or even winding up a few institutions like Philip Pullman (high five Phil!)

It would be nice to write a book. I think I would like to be a novelist. You know, get my Byronic-Hero-ness on and live it up like its 1800 again... But it has always seemed like the craziest career choice. My teachers weren't exactly celebrating the idea when I mentioned it. "Why don't you be a journalist?" They would ask... well, Mrs Careers-Advisor, journalists generally can't invent Hobbits. But to be fair, they had a point. Wanting to write fiction should get you a free pass to the looney bin. The career choice is crazy.

I mean, one book just doesn't cut it these days. Everything has a sequel or is part of a series. You can't write a Catcher in the Rye and be done with it any more. When I was younger, for example, I thought Danielle Steel was many, many people with the same name, because I didn't think anyone wrote more than one book! (I was about 5, ok!) And I've often wondered how authors like Jodi Piccoult and Stephen King can publish so many books in a life time. How do they do it?! In my head, books take a lot of time to write! Maybe it's me... Maybe I'm misjudging what it takes to write a novel or over-analysing the process. But if I was faced with a 6-book deal, I would panic. What if I didn't have 6 ideas?! ("Well Emma," I hear you say... "This is how we ended up with the dirge that is titled New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn." And I would take your point and smile.)

Another thing that leads me to think "novelist" has a good reason not to be on the ticklist of career options at school is the lonliness. Writing is the most solitary thing I know. You wake up, you turn on the laptop (/pick up a pen if you're making a statement), avoid interruptions like they're the plague, drink inhuman amounts of caffeine that leads you to mumble instead of speak, and then you go to sleep again. The only people-contact you get is if you run out of Gold Blend (how very British, eh) and pop to the shop, at which point you still don't get a conversation because you're mumbling, remember? And if you start writing your epic at, say, 16... how will you ever find the love of your life you so furvently believe in? (as demonstrated by the 3 chapters of "legally different" Elizabeth/Darcy you've just sweat blood and real tears writing).

Next up is the high insanity risk, closely related (I'd imagine) to the above observation. If you have read The Shining or watched Secret Window you'll know what I mean. When your head is so often pre-occupied in a lone world where things can be whatever you want them to be, that's got to have an effect.

But theultimate reason being an author is a ridiculous decision? You'll spend all that life-time being a hermit and writing, with the fact that even Harry Potter got 12 rejections before it got published at the back of your mind. How much do you have to believe in your writing? a HELL of a lot. And what's the worst affliction of every writer? self criticism. The odds are, im afraid, STACKED against you.

And despite all this, I'd still like to be a writer, actually. Now... pen or laptop?

The Hunger Games: trailer

Dont look now, but here's the first Hunger Games trailer. Doesn't show you much but Katniss does seem to be characterised the way I imagined her at least (can tell a lot from a stalk-y run these days dont ya know. I'm supernaturally perceptive! [yes, that's sarcasm] )

I honestly don't know why they insist on making books into films so quickly now. Well, yes, I do, but I'd like to think not everyone in the world is willing to sacrifice the legacy of good writing for a quick buck on the fan-train. It's such a shame that a book can't ride out its own success before people begin to over look it for the hour-and-a-half condensed version with pre-packaged faces.

Having said that, I feel justified in being excited to see the film as I have read it already. I'd like everyone else to do the same, and feel the anticipation without guilt, or the guilt I will impose on you. Fingers crossed it's not another "Golden Compass" type massacre.

Books to make time for: Part 3

Part 3 of my "Books to make time for" feature is here!

The third book I'd like to feature is: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. It's a book I have always remembered since reading it when I was younger.

What is it about?

Here's the blurb. I dont really want to tell you any more as it would ruin it!

She’s as magical as the desert sky. As mysterious as her own name. Nobody knows who she is or where she’s from. But everyone loves her for being different. And she captures Leo’s heart with just one smile. STARGIRL is a classic of our time that celebrates being true to ourselves and the thrill of first love. A life-changing read that touches souls of all ages.

And it really does, y'know... touch the soul and all that. STARgirl is just a lovely, lovely book. And totally an off-beat choice for me considering all that pink gushiness! That just goes to prove how good it is!

Why should you make time for it?

Apart from being a great story (and a wonderfully designed cover!) STARgirl is well written, funny, sad, suspenseful, mysterious and lush. More of a girl's book this one, but I feel ok about marginalising to get it out there! STARgirl is a book that will make you want to be a better person. Guaranteed. (and at once disclaimed. I make no promises but you have a bit of a cold heart if you don't feel like being just a little better for reading it!)

You might like this if you like...

YA fiction, romance with a twist, individuality

This book is similar to:

You know, I actually have no idea...

Where can you get it?

Find it at Amazon

Heathcliff - scary as!

Last night I watched an ITV adaptation of Wuthering Heights... It was very good. I like Wuthering Heights... It's ridiculously dark and it amuses me all the time that it's regarded as a romance and not a horror. Heathcliff's a frickin' nutcase, not a loveable rogue! Have to say, Tom Hardy played him brilliantly. I was scared. Actually scared. When he confronts poor Nelly on his return, all gentlemanned up, and demands she "SPEAK! SPEEEAK!" oh my, I think I'd have dropped my apron of apples and broken down crying! No offense intended, but that thick Yorkshire accent has a certain... menace to it!
I spent my lunchbreak today reading some essays and character studies of Heathcliff. Partly because I'm a terrible geek and partly because, like I said, he's a psycho and I'm amazed girls go weak at the knees for him. (What are you thinking Cathy?!)

It is, in fact, the exact same odd idealisation that seems to surround Edward Cullen. Except Heathcliff will actually kill you and Ed will just watch you sleep all the time and maybe lick your face a bit.

So within my hour of reading and research I kept coming across the "Byronic hero". Great phrase! Not ironic or bionic, BYRONIC! yes yes, I know it's in reference to Byron, but imagine if it was a mechanical wit-bot! That might actually go some towards explaining Heathcliff's frightening tendancies. HE'S A MACHINE!!!!

Sorry, I'll be sensible. Byronic heroes then. What are they? Well, let me tell you... Wikipedia puts it something like this:

The Byronic hero is an idealised but flawed character exemplified in the life and writings of English Romantic poet Lord Byron. It was characterised by Lady Caroline Lamb, later a lover of Byron's, as being "mad, bad, and dangerous to know"

Here's the character set:
  • Arrogant
  • Cunning and able to adapt
  • Cynical
  • Disrespectful of rank and privilege
  • Emotionally conflicted, bipolar, or moody
  • Having a distaste for social institutions and norms
  • Having a troubled past or suffering from an unnamed crime
  • Intelligent and perceptive
  • Jaded, world-weary
  • Mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
  • Seductive and sexually attractive
  • Self-critical and introspective
  • Self-destructive
  • Socially and sexually dominant
  • Sophisticated and educated
  • Struggling with integrity
  • Treated as an exile, outcast, or outlaw

If I ever write a book, these are completely the types of people I would write about. Hell, I want to be a Bronte. What with Rochester and Heathcliff Byronic-ing about, their worlds must have been high-drama, high-emotion, high-intensity. Every day! So long my average life and hello mysticism.

But here's the thing. If I write about these characters, they'll be listed somewhere alongside Hannibal Lecter and the Phantom of the Opera. Because, have no qualms about it, that state of mind, with all its intensity, is NOT healthy. These people aren't lovers. They are the characters that make the greatest gothic horror. I'll throw in a few ghosts for good measure, but I will always fail to understand how Heathcliff, Cullen, Dorian Gray and Frollo can ever be figureheads for romanticism. Or maybe girls are just more screwwed than I thought!


    Getting past Young Adult Fiction's recent bad rep

    Yesterday I downloaded 2 of the books from my wishlist (Forgotten and Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini) both of which are categorised as Young Adult fiction.
    I have quite a soft spot for this genre. Sometimes you just dont want to work at what you're reading. Sometimes, after an epic novel full of ground-breaking literature, you just want something to enjoy without thinking. To me, YA fiction is like sticking on a Ben Stiller movie after watching Requiem for a Dream. Sometimes, you just need a reprieve.

    However, despite this, I still felt the need to justify to myself why I had just bought these. It's kind of strange, having to question your own desires, and it got me to thinking "why?". Why did I hesitate? Why did I feel that tiny hint of embarassment? Twilight probably had a little bit to do with it. Before that book came out I wouldn't have thought twice about picking up a YA novel, and now I'm worried I'm just an annoying fan-girl when I pick up anything vaguely supernatural. The Maze Runner also had a little bit of a role to play. It tried so hard to be something it just wasn't, and I'm pretty sure there's a lot of other books out there "jumping on a bandwagon" and riding the trends for The Hunger Games and vampires.

    But I also thought about how unfair all that was. It's awful that I may not pick up a YA novel for fear it's another Twilight. I've read bad adult books, but that hasn't put me off of reading anything else!

    So here is a post about some GREAT young adult fiction that can be enjoyed at any age. Very often you forget YA is the intended audience for a couple of them. I'm determinded to find more of the same:

    The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak

    So many have read this already, so many more need to!

    This one specifically had some great multi-layered story lines. Kids will come back and find it so much deeper years later.

    The Hobbitby J R R Tolkein

    Less complex than Lord Of The Rings, but just as adventurous.

    My personal YA favourite and such a great story.


    My wishlist of books

    This weekend Amazon kinda "clicked" with me. I felt that spark. That little hint of a good relationship beginning to brew between me and my "recommendations" list. (It was short lived, because as soon as I searched for Nike running wear it was thrown off and thought I actually liked exercise. Ha!)

    For that short time though, things were beautiful. Book after book was thrown up and I kept thinking "yes, that sounds interesting, and definately worth a stab in the dark when it falls below a fiver". And so, my wishlist grew... and grew... and now I have enough wishes to fill a wishy library of wishes in my head.

    I thought I'd share with you some of the books, as if you come here looking for a review, you probably have similar taste to me. You might find some of them intriguing yourself. And nothing feels as good as the feeling of recommending a book and getting it right. The only catch here is that I don't know what they're like yet. So don't hold me responsible if you find the writing as (in)credible as Twilight. Disclaimer done. Here's the books:

    The Blue Book
    by A. L. Kennedy

    Elizabeth Barber is crossing the Atlantic by liner with her perfectly adequate boyfriend, Derek, who might be planning to propose. In fleeing the UK – temporarily – Elizabeth may also be in flight from her past and the charismatic Arthur, once her partner in what she came to see as a series of crimes. Together they acted as fake mediums, perfecting the arcane skills practised by effective frauds. 

    Elizabeth finally rejected what once seemed an intoxicating game. Arthur continued his search for the right way to do wrong. He now subsidises free closure for the traumatised and dispossessed by preying on the super-rich. The pair still meet occasionally, for weekends of sexual oblivion, but their affection lacerates as much as it consoles.

    She hadn’t, though, expected the other man on the boat. As her voyage progresses, Elizabeth’s past is revealed, codes slowly form and break as communication deepens. It’s time for her to discover who are the true deceivers and who are the truly deceived.

    What’s more, is the book itself – a fiction which may not always be lying – deceiving the reader? Offering illusions and false trails, magical numbers and redemptive humour, this is a novel about what happens when we are misled and when we are true: an extraordinarily intricate and intimate journey into our minds and hearts undertaken by a writer of great gifts – a maker of wonders.

    Was going to paraphrase that blurb but it was too good. Sounds all twisty-turny and dramatic though, right? 

    Anno Dracula
    by Kim Newman

    It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel tells the story of vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders. Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history.

    Risky... A "popular vampire novel" and to top it, it's got romance. *alarm bells ringing!* Does appeal to the geeky goth in me though.

    Night Waking
    by Sarah Moss

    Historian Anna Bennett has a book to write. She also has an insomniac toddler, a precocious, death-obsessed seven-year-old, and a frequently-absent ecologist husband who has brought them all to Colsay, a desolate island in the Hebrides, so he can count the puffins. Ferociously sleep-deprived, torn between mothering and her desire for the pleasures of work and solitude, Anna becomes haunted by the discovery of a baby's skeleton in the garden of their house. Her narrative is punctuated by letters home, written 200 years before, by May, a young, middle-class midwife desperately trying to introduce modern medicine to the suspicious, insular islanders. The lives of these two characters intersect unexpectedly in this deeply moving but also at times blackly funny story about maternal ambivalence, the way we try to control children, and about women's vexed and passionate relationship with work.

    It's about mothers. Why does this appeal to me? Oh yeah, the creepy death-obsessed kid. I don't condone this as an attractive-reading-material-maker. I probably need some sort of analysis... It does have a touch of the classic gothic novel about it though.

    The Possessions of Doctor Forrest
    by Richard T. Kelly

    Dr Jekyll meets Dr Faustus in this spine-chilling modern-day Gothic fable.

     That's all the blurb says on Amazon. That's all I needed!

    by Cat Patrick

    With the intrigue of Memento and the romance of The Time-Traveller's Wife, Forgotten is the perfect YA novel. Here's the thing about me: I can see the future in flashes, like memories. But my past is a blank. I remember what I'll wear tomorrow, and an argument that won't happen until this afternoon. But I don't know what I ate for dinner last night. I get by with the help of notes, my mom and my best friend Jamie, and the system works ...Until now. Everything's falling apart. Jamie's going of the rails. My mom is lying to me. And I can't see the boy I adore in my future. But today, I love him. And I never want to forget how much ...Forgotten is the story of a girl for whom yesterday is lost, today is an adventure, and tomorrow is a memory. An unforgettable read. 

    Ah, my love of YA comes into play here... And I do like both Memento and the Time Travellers Wife. Kinda sold from the first sentence onwards. However, maybe I should take heed of the lesson learnt from this book

    Ok that's it for now. Let me know if you have read any of these and want to tell me more!